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Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment (Professional) (cont.)

Treatment Option Overview for Small Cell Lung Cancer

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy have been shown to improve survival for patients with small cell lung cancer (SCLC).


Chemotherapy improves the survival of patients with limited-stage disease (LD) or extensive-stage disease (ED), but it is curative in only a minority of patients.[1,2] Because patients with SCLC tend to develop distant metastases, localized forms of treatment, such as surgical resection or radiation therapy, rarely produce long-term survival.[3] With incorporation of current chemotherapy regimens into the treatment program, however, survival is prolonged, with at least a fourfold to fivefold improvement in median survival compared with patients who are given no therapy.

The combination of platinum and etoposide is the most widely used standard chemotherapeutic regimen.[4,5,6][Level of evidence: 1iiA] No consistent survival benefit has resulted from platinum versus nonplatinum combinations, increased dose intensity or dose density, altered mode of administration (e.g., alternating or sequential administration) of various chemotherapeutic agents, or maintenance chemotherapy.[7,8,9,10,11,12][Level of evidence: 1iiA]

Radiation Therapy

SCLC is highly radiosensitive and thoracic radiation therapy improves survival of patients with LD and ED tumors.[13,14,15][Level of evidence: 1iiA] Prophylactic cranial radiation prevents central nervous system recurrence and may improve the long-term survival of patients who have responded to chemoradiation therapy [16,17,18][Level of evidence: 1iiA] and offers palliation of symptomatic metastatic disease.

Treatment for patients with limited-stage, extensive-stage, or recurrent SCLC is summarized in Table 11.

Table 1. 1. Standard Treatment Options for Patients With Small Cell Lung Cancer

StageStandard Treatment Options
Limited-stage diseaseChemotherapy and radiation therapy
Combination chemotherapy alone
Surgery followed by chemotherapy or chemoradiotherapy
Prophylactic cranial irradiation
Extensive-stage diseaseCombination chemotherapy
Radiation therapy
Prophylactic cranial irradiation
Recurrent diseaseChemotherapy
Palliative therapy

Despite treatment advances, the majority of patients with SCLC die of their tumor even with the best available therapy. Most of the improvements in the survival of patients with SCLC are attributable to clinical trials that have attempted to improve on the best available and most accepted therapy. Patient entry into such studies is highly desirable.

Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.


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  12. Amarasena IU, Walters JA, Wood-Baker R, et al.: Platinum versus non-platinum chemotherapy regimens for small cell lung cancer. Cochrane Database Syst Rev (4): CD006849, 2008.
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  14. Warde P, Payne D: Does thoracic irradiation improve survival and local control in limited-stage small-cell carcinoma of the lung? A meta-analysis. J Clin Oncol 10 (6): 890-5, 1992.
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